Morocco Dadès & Todra 2001.02.01 - 02.04


A bus runs between Ouarzazate and Fès, making stops in Boumalne du Dadès and Tinerhir, the 2 towns closest to the Dadès and Todra Gorges respectively. Local mini-vans run between the towns and the gorges. They depart not according to a schedule but when enough passengers have been found. The standard fee is roughly 5 DH for up to 15km, 10 DH for 16~25km, and 15 DH for over 25km. Luggage rides free.

Boumalne du Dadès and Dadès Gorge

About 150km east of Ouarzazate is Boumalne du Dadès. Here was our first experience with a "faux guide" - a smooth talker who operates without a license and charges how ever much he can get away with. After disembarking the bus, we thought we ditched all the hustlers by ducking into a nearby Internet Café. There, we thought we'd ask for direction to Hôtel Adrar, a place we selected from the Lonely Planet guide. A well dressed man appearing in his late 20s was just exiting the Internet Café. "What are you looking for? I work at Hôtel Adrar, if you're interested." "How fortunate," we thought as we followed him to the hotel. The Lonely Planet guide says Hôtel Adrar can organize treks or shared taxis into Dadès Gorge, so when this "faux guide" Abdul asked what our plans were over the next few days and proposed options and costs (albeit expensive), we thought nothing strange of it. Within 30 minutes, he had us convinced that transport from the town to the gorge would be next to impossible on our own, but that he could find a driver for the day for only 800 DH. When we objected to the price, he suggested 400 DH for a half day. From 400 DH, we negotiated down to 300 DH. That night, talking to the hotel manager, we learned that Abdul, in fact, doesn't work at the hotel and has a bad reputation for leading tourists astray. "If you go with him, you won't see the gorge. Only carpet shops," the hotel staff warned. "You'll be 300 DH poorer and unhappy," they continued. "If you want to see the gorge, you should ride the 15 DH mini-van that departs every morning," they suggested. When we admitted that we already gave Abdul's driver a 100 DH deposit, they suggested we get it back. That night Wes and Masami both dreamt of ways to retrieve our 100 DH deposit. In our dreams, we shouted, took videos of their confessions, threatened. But the next morning, all was calm. We went downstairs and there was Abdul, his assistant, and his driver. Abdul said, "I heard some talk that you're not happy. If you want, I'll give you back your 100 DH deposit and you can ride the mini-van to the gorge. If that's what you want." We were shocked how easy it was. No conflict, no threats. We got our money back. Outside, I asked the hotel staff what happened that morning. He said, "I said to Abdul, 'You're customers don't seem happy. Maybe they give you the remaining 200 DH. Maybe they go to the police.'" Problem solved. Note: In Morocco, guiding tourists without a license carries a penalty of 3-12 months imprisonment.

The ride up to Dadès Gorge in the mini-van was cramped but cheap. At about 28km from Boumalne, we were in the gorge and asked the mini-van driver to let us out. Once on the road, we walked a few km along the gorge in peace. Transport back to Boumalne was also easy. We flagged down the next passing shared taxi - that happened to be occupied by a Japanese guy we met in Marrakech at Hôtel Afriquia. Round trip, transport cost 50 DH for the 2 of us.

The one and only Internet Café in Boumalne du Dadès is Dades Net on the main road, avenue Mohammed V. Floppy drives and FTP from DOS work, and the cost is only 10 DH per hour - the cheapest we've found anywhere on our travels to date.

Mini-van transports can be identified by the fact that they're old and beat up, they're carrying 18 or more people, and there's luggage tied to the roof. They depart when the driver decides he has enough passengers.

Many men in the mini-van wear a gilaba, a hooded one-piece robe, over their clothes. Because of the shape of their hoods, we call these mini-vans "star wars buses".

The road north from Boumalne du Dadès winds along the Dadès Gorge. Passengers are free to get on and off mini-vans or shared taxis anywhere along the route.

Tinerhir and Todra Gorge

Another 50km east of Boumalne du Dadès is Tinerhir. We had enough faux guide experiences in Boumalne, and decided to bypass the next big town, Tinerhir, to avoid more. As soon as we got off the bus in Tinerhir, we found the next mini-van to Todra Gorge, 15km north. The wait was about 30 minutes during which 2 guys in their late teens tried to sell us camel rides in Merzouga. We'd heard the whole sales pitch before: there's no bus to Erfoud or Merzouga, you need to have a camel in the desert, blah, blah, blah. Lies and more lies. Thank goodness we had our Lonely Planet guide.

By the time we reached Todra Gorge, the sun had set. There were basically 2 types of hotels: hostel style for 30 DH per person or luxury for 75 DH per person including breakfast. We splurged and stayed at Hôtel Les Roches right in the gorge. 150 DH (US$15) for a double room with private toilet and hot shower and breakfast for 2 in a beautiful red-rocked gorge is a great value, even in Morocco.

Reaching Hôtel Les Roches was difficult, not because of accessibility, but because Moroccans along the way insisted we shouldn't go. People in Tinerhir insisted that Todra Gorge is too cold in the winter, that we should stay at their hotel in town and maybe take a day trip to the gorge. At the mini-van stop near the mouth of the gorge, the staff at the hostel style hotel insisted that Hôtel Les Roches is too expensive and doesn't get enough sunlight, making it unreasonably cold. All we could do is insist that we first see Hôtel Les Roches, and that if what the others says is true, we return.

The first morning in Todra Gorge was spectacular. Directly above the hotel rose 300 meter crags, a rock climber's paradise. Unbeknownst to us, Todra Gorge is a world famous rock climbing area attracting climbers from Europe, the US, and Japan. We stayed off the cliffs and hiked along the Berber mule trails that extend for tens of kilometers before reaching the next settlement. We wanted to stay in Todra Gorge longer, but we were offered a ride to Merzouga that we couldn't refuse.

Looking out our hotel window on our first morning in Todra Gorge.

A one hour hike up a Berber mule trail takes us to the top of the 300 meter cliffs that form the gorge.

Berber women and mules carry huge loads of prickly shrubs for 20km each day. They all wanted us to give them 5 DH for a picture.

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